Are you are fed up with the climate, rising prices and stress at work? Do you just long for that annual two-week holiday in the sun? Maybe the time has come to consider a complete change in your life and to head for warmer climes? Well, many British, Irish, Germans and Scandinavians have just done that and the opportunities to do this have been growing all the time since the UK and Ireland joined the European Union. (*Please note that this article was written before Brexit, and so opportunities may have changed or reduced for UK citizens).
Gran Canaria, the third largest island in the group of seven islands that together make up the Canary Islands, has a great deal to offer anyone wishing to escape the day-to-day grind of life in Britain. The Canary Islands are an autonomous province within Spain, and Gran Canaria is at the southernmost extremity of the European Union. This means that you can reap the benefit of being both within the European Union for medical, social security and other benefits, whilst being outside the EU for tax purposes. Perfumes, wines and spirits and luxury goods are perhaps the best value in Europe – attracting only 5% tax instead of 17.5% in the UK. In addition, as the islands are closer to Africa than Europe the climate offers just two variations – warm and hot. There is no winter or autumn – just spring with a freshening of the winds and maybe a little rain. The arrival of summer is usually heralded with the beginning of Carnival season – a riot of colour, costumes and music only outrivaled by South America - with months of glorious outdoor living, sun and sea, and whatever else takes your fancy.
Gran Canaria has been a popular gay holiday destination for many years. Indeed, many people say that this is the island where General Franco exiled any soldiers, who were found to be gay, as a punishment. What a punishment indeed! The locals are warm and friendly and, in general, embrace positive attitudes to gay, straight, transsexual and transgendered, black, white, mixed race, Christian, Muslim or those of no faith along the lines of – “Live and Let Live.” Anything within reason goes on the island – as long as it remains within the law and does not harm anyone else. It is a refreshing attitude that draws many gay men and woman frustrated by years of hostility and repression in other countries.
As gay tourists will already know, Gran Canaria is one of the gayest friendly destinations in Europe, and now hosts one of the largest Gay Pride events in Europe. For those interested in a heady nightlife, the renowned, and sometimes infamous Yumbo Centre, with its 40 plus gay bars, shops, saunas, clubs and restaurants is at the centre of gay Gran Canaria. However, do not be deceived into thinking that this is all this wonderful island has to offer. Magnificent beaches, water sports (in any way that you fancy), mountains, country walks, horse and camel riding are all just a small trip away. The island’s capital, Las Palmas, is the seventh largest city in Spain and is rich in magnificent buildings, museums and galleries. With many large shopping centres and department stores, it is easy to see why residents lack for nothing on the island.
At the moment, house and apartment prices are, in common with most of Europe, falling and there are some good value purchases to be had. The best advice to offer a would-be purchaser is, before you do anything, find a good English-speaking lawyer to advise you upon the legal formalities that are needed in Spain. This is essential, so ask around, take advice from other ex-pats, check with your consulate and do not rely only upon the legal services offered to you by real estate agents. You need your own lawyer to guide you through this all-important purchase.
If you are considering a permanent move to the islands, or to any part of Spain, you would be wise to consider renting a property for the first year or two. In that time it will become clearer where you would like to live. After all, would that glorious villa or apartment where you happily sunbathed on holiday really be suitable to live in all year round if you were working or living permanently on the island. A week or two of baking heat in Puerto Rico and Puerto Mogan, in the south of the island, during the summer is glorious if you are on holiday, but could you really stand the heat permanently or the large electricity bills from the air conditioning?
Many ex-pats consider that living in the east (towns such as Vecindario and Arinaga are excellent value) or north of the island (Las Palmas, Galdar), is a cooler and cheaper option to living in the tourist centres of the south. However, if you wish to be where the action is, there are few better places to choose than towns such as Playa del Ingles and Puerto Rico or Arguineguin, which is quieter. There are still many mainly undiscovered villages in the mountains offering traditional style Canarian cottages and even cave homes at reasonable prices – if you fancy a quieter, getting away from it all lifestyle.
If you decide to buy a property, do visit a number of Spanish and Canarian Estate agents, and not just the British and German ones. Try to deal with a company that can speaks English – many agents in the south of the island consider this to be essential and ensure that a member of staff can help you in your own language. Remember to be as cautious when buying as you would be in your home country, and do not leave a hefty deposit with the estate agent. After all you wouldn’t even consider this at home, but many ex-pats have in the past and a number have been known to lose their money when the company goes bust.
Another important aspect of life in any foreign country is to make an effort to learn the language. It is better if you make a serious commitment to learn Spanish before you move from your home country, but in any case it is helpful and always appreciated by the locals if you can say a few phrases in Spanish. Town Halls usually offer Spanish lessons in groups at reasonable charge and private tutors and language schools are readily available.
If you already live in a country within the Europe Union, and are retired, you can benefit from the reciprocal health arrangements between your home country and Spain. If not, you either need to pay into the Spanish healthcare and social security system or take out private medical insurance. Medical care on the island – both private and state - is excellent and its hospitals have rightly gained a first class reputation for quality care both on the island and in Spain. There are also a number of very good private hospitals and clinics offering first class care.
If you intend to live and work on the island – and many do for varying lengths of time – bar and other holiday employment is usually readily available. However, please be aware that these jobs are often temporary by nature, low paid, long hours and “cash in hand” with no state benefits attached. The only way to get these is to be either self-employed or to be employed on a contract basis. The best advice that I can give anyone moving to another country is to forget what you were at home as it is highly unlikely that you will be offered a similar job in the Canary Islands and certainly not at the same rate of pay! Keep an open mind to take on anything that appeals, but try to utilise those skills and talents that you already have and you will be surprised at what you can do!
Remember too that, unless you are very fortunate, you will not make a lot of money in the Canary Islands. However, what you will achieve is a more contented and healthier lifestyle in the sun, with a much lower cost of living. Water, electricity, council tax, car tax and all the rest are so much lower and you will have more time and the possibility of enjoying all year sunshine, beaches and outdoor living.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s website: www.barriemahoney.com
© Barrie Mahoney 2021
From 'Letters from the Atlantic' by Barrie Mahoney